Essay on Maternity and Masculinity in Macbeth and Coriolanus
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Maternity and Masculinity in Macbeth and Coriolanus
The power of womanhood is linked with both maternity and masculinity in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Coriolanus; one might say that they are interchangeable. Lady Macbeth becomes the psychologically masculine force over her husband, essentially assuming a maternal role, in order to inspire the aggression needed to fulfill their ambitions. Similarly, in Coriolanus, Volumnia maintains a clear, overtly maternal position over Coriolanus, molding him to be the ideal of heroic masculinity that both separates him from the rest of the characters and inescapably binds him to his mother.
These two plays, more than any other in the Shakespearean canon, throw into doubt the notion of a…show more content…
Their androgyny, however, places them outside of the realm of expected gender roles, foreshadowing the upset of such roles by other characters.
In between these scenes, we are thrust into the aftermath of a great battle, where the definition of manhood is clearly defined, and one man stands alone as the pinnacle of masculinity. The Captain declares: For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valor’s minion carved out his passage (1.2.16-19),
Macbeth’s victory over Macdonwald proves his manhood by displaying his ability to act as a man. The link between manhood and violence is extremely prevalent in Macbeth. After hearing an account of Macbeth’s bloody victory, Duncan declares, “Oh, valiant cousin, worthy gentleman” (1.2.24), and Macbeth is awarded a higher position in the government: Thane of Cawdor. If gender is proved through performance, then Macbeth has succeeded in becoming the epitome of masculinity.
“Maternal power in Macbeth,” Janet Adelman writes, “is not embodied in the figure of a particular mother (as it is in Coriolanus); it is instead diffused throughout the play” (Adelman 131). This “maternal malevolence”(131) is introduced with the witches, but quickly spreads to Lady Macbeth. After she learns of his encounter with the witches and his plot to usurp the
Images Of Masculinity And Femininity In Shakespeare's Macbeth
Images of Masculinity and Femininity in Macbeth
Lady Macbeth does not have the traditional role of ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, or ‘wife’ but ‘partner’. Macbeth’s letter refers to her as: ‘My dearest partner in greatness..’ I (v) In spite of his military culture, Macbeth perceives Lady Macbeth as an equal, it would seem in all things; his political life, his career, his personal life; i.e. she is his significant other. Noticeably the emphasis is on ‘him’. Lady Macbeth lacks status of her own, as did all women in this era as ‘status’ could only be derived from one’s husband or father.
The doctrine Macbeth adopts goes against all the conventional ideas of how a female should be regarded by a male. In the Renaissance era the division of the sexes were so vast, but Lady Macbeth resists persistently even when Macbeth dismisses her: ‘We will proceed no further in this business:’ (I vii 32) To resist what Macbeth says on whatever grounds, is not to be a woman at all. A woman is supposed to be weak, frail and submissive to male desires and certainly not supposed to debate effectively with her husband. But Lady Macbeth does reject the ‘woman’s’ role - as defined by men.
One could be forgiven for thinking of Lady Macbeth as the only female worth studying in Macbeth as the other female characters have such minor roles. But I believe the witches are of importance when examining femininity. They are the first characters we set eyes upon and every event in the play is indirectly controlled or caused by them. This is surely a very powerful role.
Witches allegedly foretold the future and served the devil. So Macbeth’s apparent fear and belief in their prophecy was undermining ecclesiastical authority. He takes great heed of what they say, so much so, that he effectively hands his power over to them. In this era Macbeth would be seen to be demeaning himself by even consulting with women. He even thought their declaration to be of such significance that he writes to Lady Macbeth. This is surprising for the very fact that men only wrote letters to women as an expression of courtly love when wooing them. The only other time a letter would be sent, was to announce a death.
Even when Macbeth becomes king - his ultimate ambition; he is full of curiosity: ‘Tell me, thou unknown power,-‘and practically begs them to utter him more prophecies: ‘But one word more’. But for women to have any kind of authority, they have to be seen as male. This is represented in the witches physical appearance. When Banquo approaches the witches he comments on one of the most masculine of features; their beards. It seems that the underlying interpretation is that to be evil or more importantly, to have ambition or power you are not allowed to be feminine, you must have a ’maleness’ about you:
‘you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.’ (1 iii 45-46)
I think the witches represent a type of female bonding. They...
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